WATERVILLE — A crowd rallied on Saturday outside City Hall, calling on Maine’s top politicians to help Lexius Saint Martin, a Waterville man awaiting deportation to Haiti, return to Maine to his wife, children and unborn child.

Saint Martin, 35, came to the U.S. with his family from Haiti as a refugee when he was 11. He was taken Jan. 2 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as he was leaving his Oakland Street home to go to work. He is being held in a jail in New Hampshire.

Saint Martin, who owns a cleaning business, has a wife, Mindy, who is 28; and two sons, Donovan and Marcus, who are 5 and 2, respectively. His wife is expecting a girl, Mya, in May.

Before he met Mindy, Lexius Saint Martin was convicted of drug trafficking, served seven months in jail and since then has been a law-abiding citizen for several years, as well as a model for rehabilitation, say those who know him, including the Saint Martin’s attorney, Evan Fisher, of Augusta.

“There are a lot of legal challenges around the country like this and, one by one, federal judges are saying ‘enough,'” Fisher said before the rally started. “Many judges are ordering people released, at least temporarily.”

Fisher was among about 100 men and women, including state legislators, city councilors, clergy members, students and others who gathered in the bitter cold, waiting for the rally to start. Many wore buttons that said “Keep Families Together” and carried signs that read “Love Your Neighbors — All of Them,” “Melt ICE” and “Protect Our Community.”

Sarah Bigney, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, spoke from the steps of City Hall, saying the Saint Martins’ story is one about keeping families together and that taking him from everything he knows and sending him to Haiti, which has been ravaged by hurricanes and earthquakes, is “undeniably cruel.” She asked the crowd to call the congressional delegation to intervene and advocate for fair immigration reform.

“I come out of the labor movement, and we believe an injury to one is an injury to all,” Bigney said, generating applause. “When you take on one of us, you take on all of us.”

The crowd began to echo her declaration and chanted it repeatedly.

Mindy Saint Martin’s brother, John Reynolds, of Oakland, said it meant a lot to his family to have the support of so many people. Reynolds, a warehouse worker at Caswell’s Liquidation Center on Armory Road, said Lexius Saint Martin is a loving father and husband, and a proud homeowner and taxpayer who deserves a second chance. He should not be defined by a crime he committed more than 10 years ago, according to Reynolds.

“He is one of the hardest-working people I know,” he said. “He is the sole supporter of his family.”

Reynolds said ICE took him away without allowing him to see his family beforehand.

“I fear the worst for my sister and her two sons and baby-to-be,” he said.

Colby senior Adrienne Carmack, who organized the rally, asked the crowd to take out their cellphones and call U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, as well as U.S. Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree. Volunteers held up posters bearing their names and telephone numbers to advocate for the Saint Martins.

“We know it’s cold, but we ask you to take this one action right now,” said Carmack, who is from Veazie.

The Rev. Thomas Blackstone, of Waterville’s Pleasant Street United Methodist Church, gave an impassioned speech saying President Donald Trump takes pride in deporting immigrants, particularly those of color and even those who have lived in the country for years, holding down jobs, raising families, paying taxes and contributing to society.

“But knowing it is happening someplace is not the same as seeing it happen here, on our streets, in our neighborhoods, to people we pass by or associate with every day,” Blackstone said. “How did Mr. Saint Martin suddenly become so dangerous that federal agencies had to sweep down from on high into our community and take him into custody? What changed that necessitated re-initiating a deportation process that has been placed on hold for years?”

He said Saint Martin served his sentence, and the incarceration did what it was intended to do — turn his life around and set him on a better course. He wondered aloud what it was that justified disrupting the bond between husband and wife, father and sons, neighbor and neighbor.

“The truth is, nothing has changed, nothing but the priorities of an administration that has decided to judge people on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character,” Blackstone said. “Where would Saint Martin be this afternoon, had he come from Norway instead of Haiti? We know the answer: He’d be sitting at home, making lunch for his boys, and helping to prepare the nursery for his new daughter.”

Fisher told the crowd he is trying to bring Lexius Saint Martin home, but it is a hard job and he needs their help. Saint Martin, he said, is someone who came to the U.S. through the front door, received lawful permanent status and lived here legally before he was arrested for trafficking. Had he applied for citizenship before that, he would be treated differently now, according to Fisher.

“His conviction amounted to a ‘one strike, you’re out,’ rule,” Fisher said.

Fisher said he plans to ask Gov. Paul LePage to pardon Saint Martin’s underlying trafficking conviction, which could help him and others in their efforts to bring him home.

“I have a message for the governor. The pardon petition is in the mail,” he said.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, thanked the crowd for standing in the bitter cold in solidarity and for calling the congressional delegation, which has the power to bring a private bill to stop Saint Martin’s deportation. She asked those who know LePage, senators and representatives personally, or their family members, to call and ask them to help in the effort.

“Use your entire personal network, because this is personal,” Bellows said, a tear streaming down her left cheek. “Please don’t give up. Don’t let your tears turn to despair. We can make a difference.”

After the rally, Mindy Saint Martin’s mother, Jodie Reynolds, of Clinton, said her daughter has been overwhelmed by the support she has received since the story about her husband went public.

“She has received messages such as, ‘Hang in there; we’re rooting for you,’ ” she said. “A lot of people are praying for her and Lex. It’s been amazing.”

Mindy’s best friend, Ashley Powell, of Belgrade, said she grew up without her own father in her life and she worries for the Saint Martin children, whom she considers her nephews.

“I just can’t imagine seeing this family ripped apart by something like this. It’s devastating,” Powell said.

Hilary Koch, of Waterville, said she felt compelled to attend the rally, though she does not know the Saint Martin family. She said Lexius Saint Martin’s situation is not unique; instead, it is happening around the U.S. Koch cited Miguel Perez, of Chicago, and Syed Jamal, of Lawrence, Kansas, both of whom have been in the U.S. for many years and were arrested by ICE. They both are model residents and vital to their communities, according to Koch, who said laws are made for people by people and can be amended.

“Our elected officials need to exercise their discretion,” she said. “They can and they should.”

Among those who attended the rally were Waterville two city councilors — Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, and Lauren Lessing, D-Ward 3.

Lessing said before the rally started that Waterville is a place that always has welcomed immigrants. Her neighbor, she said, walked to Waterville from Canada many years ago, fought in World War II and was decorated for his service.

“That’s what this country is about and what this town is about. We welcome people from many different places,” Lessing said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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